By Matt Reese
Ohio has a rich history of famous people, fascinating places and interesting events that could take a lifetime to learn. Or, visitors could learn about Ohio by simply spending an autumn afternoon at Ramseyer Farms in their perennially popular Ohio Maze just outside of Wooster in Wayne County.
The maze is a map of Ohio carved into an 8-acre cornfield. Aerial photos of the maze reveal major Interstates and highways running through the state, major metropolitan areas and historical sites.
“If you know your way around Ohio, you can find your way out of this maze pretty easily,” said Karen Ramseyer, who designed the maze on her family’s farm. “The maze also has more than 250 signs highlighting Ohio facts and history.”
Maze-goers start in Kentucky just south of the Ohio River and cross into Cincinnati. From there, they travel via water or road to any destination in the state within a few minutes, learning about the history and people of Ohio along the way.
“The Ohio maze has been a favorite for teachers, especially in the fourth grades and older. The students can learn facts about Ohio history, geography, Native Americans, the Underground Railroad, presidents, inventors, authors, athletes and they can learn fun facts about different businesses and other famous people from Ohio,” she said. “Teachers have told me this is the best field trip they have ever been on because the students talk about what they learn here all year long. The kids get a compass, a map and a paper with questions to answer.”
To compliment the Ohio Maze and their other activities, Ramseyer Farms has developed lesson plans and specialized tours for school field trips. Local Boy Scout and Girl Scouts can even earn credit for badges based upon the completion of the Ramseyer Ohio maze. The maze also features 6 different stations where they put a stamp on a piece of paper to solve a puzzle by the end of the maze highlighting Ohio’s rich history.
Ramseyer Farms itself has a fair amount of Ohio history. The fifth-generation family farm was started in 1884 when Daniel Ramseyer began farming the land. In the 1920’s his son, Alvin (A.C.) Ramseyer, expanded the operation to include potatoes that were sold in Cleveland, Columbus, Akron and Canton. In the 1930s and 1940s, the farm began growing more potatoes for chip makers, which now serves as the predominant market for the potatoes grown on the farm. The 720-acre farm also produces pumpkins, wheat, corn and soybeans.
While crop production had always been the focus of the farm, the struggling prices for grain and potatoes in the late 1990s encouraged the Ramseyers to expand into the world of agri-tourism.
“Potatoes are still our bread and butter, but we have been raising pumpkins for around 20 years,” said Dennis Ramseyer, Karen’s husband who handles the crop production on the farm. “Grain prices were low in the late 90s and so we added a corn maze, school tours and u-pick pumpkins. We have been adding new things every year since then.”
Karen is a former school nurse who has switched her focus to educating others on the farm. She delights in finding new attractions for visitors every year and putting her own unique spin on them.
“I always like to get a new idea from somewhere and then improve on it,” she said. “That is probably the most fun for me.”
Through her unique on-farm activities, she tries to show visitors, especially the young visitors, that there are plenty of ways to learn and have fun on the farm.
“You don’t always have to be on the computer or Internet to have fun, but a lot of kids don’t know that,” she said. “We think it’s important that people know where there food comes from, so we invite them out here to see the crops growing, pick their own pumpkins and go on a hayride to see the fields.”
Every activity on the farm is fun, but also educational. Some activities clue guests in on the realities of food production while others just encourage some thought and learning amid the backdrop of beautiful northeast Ohio farm country in the fall. The fun at the farm has attracted plenty of attention from local print, radio and television media and the farm even played host to the Super Nanny Jo Frost, who visited the farm with one of the family’s she was working with for a show.
The farm is open by appointment only in August and then Tuesday through Saturday in September and October. Sunday hours are added for the farm’s festivals from the last weekend in September through October. The festivals on the weekends during the busiest months draw huge crowds.
For more, see the October issue of Ohio’s Country Journal.